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Perfect? Who cares?

dog eyebrows

I was leafing through one of my daughter’s fashion magazines yesterday and I came across an extraordinary article by a woman trumpeting on about what a perfectionist she was. She is such a stickler for detail, it appears, that she once ran out of an eyebrow salon with only one eyebrow plucked because she didn’t like the way the beautician had shaped it. Like that’s really going to improve your looks.

However, the author was obviously not such a perfectionist that she could see that her piece, which droned on for another whole page (wtf?) was the most self-obsessed drivel I’ve ever fallen asleep over  read.

perfectionism pic b

But. It got me thinking about perfectionism. And what a terrible thing it is. Perfectionists, it seems to me, worry so much about the detail, that they forget about the big picture. They’re so worried about a wrongly shaped eyebrow, they ignore the overall look.

I remember one of my children going to school with a brilliant story and coming back utterly dejected because the only comment the teacher could make about it was that the capital letters were all in the wrong place. Perfect teacher? I don’t think so.

perfectionism pic c

Perfection is an impossible dream. When we plan to be perfect, it generally all comes apart at the seams. And if we place too much importance on perfection, we miss the little unplanned things that make life so sweet.

Perfectionism is a pain in any walk of life, but it absolutely kills creativity. Nothing is worse, when you’re in full flow, than to feel that you’ve got to stop and alter what you’ve already written, because it doesn’t read quite right. Or there’s a spelling mistake, or….whatever.

perfectionism f

That’s why free-writing is such a brilliant idea. It means that you can just get your stuff down on paper and forget about form and structure. New ideas and phrases just appear, and you’re amazed how they got there. And when it’s all over, and your creativity has run into a wall, then is the time to go back and fossick about with the they’res and theirs and there theres.

Having said that, I did find myself self-correcting all the way through this piece. Not that I’m a perfectionist or anything…

Images via Creative Commons, from:





About elainecanham

I started blogging because I'm a writer, and I thought I ought to. Now I realise that I blog because I lwant to; even when I can't think of much to say. I do a lot of work for local businesses - get in touch if you like my style.


29 thoughts on “Perfect? Who cares?

  1. My perfectionism is a complete farce. As in ‘I will fix these 2 grammatical mistakes in an attempt to ignore the fact that this entire paragraph needs rewriting’ type thing. I do manage this quite perfectly though.

    Posted by Tara Sparling | July 18, 2014, 5:18 pm
    • Yes, the more I think about it, the more complicated perfectionism gets. And then of course I think about it some more and completely lose the will to write…

      Posted by elainecanham | July 18, 2014, 6:02 pm
  2. They do say that perfect is the enemy of done (or something like that). Usually it seems to work best to just push on, enjoy the creative flow, then edit later. Enjoyed this post!

    Posted by David Pandolfe | July 17, 2014, 5:55 pm
    • Thank you, David. I actually followed my own advice in writing it. Instead of spending ages editing it, it was a bit of a bish bash bosh moment. Didn’t think it was up to much, really, (bit scattergun) so was surprised by the number of comments.

      Posted by elainecanham | July 17, 2014, 6:06 pm
  3. Genuine wisdom here. And a much needed reminder, as I head back into the trenches, going from editor mode back to draft mode. Thanks, Elaine!

    Posted by Nan Sampson | July 15, 2014, 10:14 pm
    • Thank you, Nan. It was just that magazine article that got me going. I mean, imagine running out of someplace because they hadn’t done your eyebrow exactly right. Tah!

      Posted by elainecanham | July 15, 2014, 10:38 pm
  4. Spot on!!! Perfectionism is so overrated and quite annoying!

    Posted by Nida S. | July 15, 2014, 6:14 pm
  5. I always strive to do my best, but never strive for perfection. Anyone who has seen the messiness that is my house can attest to that.

    “And if we place too much importance on perfection, we miss the little unplanned things that make life so sweet” – Well said. I always think of this with regard to traveling, but it does apply to all aspects of life, doesn’t it?

    Posted by jennifer Windram | July 15, 2014, 5:25 pm
  6. Correcting your own grammar and spelling does not make you a perfectionist. I don’t believe perfectionists can write, because their writing is never, in their own eyes, good enough.
    My Mom, for example. She writes amazing stuff, but no one will ever see any of it, because it’s not good enough. In her eyes. And, she never has time to finish anything because she’s busy making her house look like a museum. (Oh boy, if she only knew I started a sentence with a preposition!!!)

    Posted by naptimethoughts | July 15, 2014, 5:07 pm
    • Yes, I’ve noticed that about perfectionists. They hardly ever finish stuff. I like to aim for perfection, but then I get to the ‘that’ll do’ stage and (hopefully) finish.

      Posted by elainecanham | July 15, 2014, 6:32 pm
  7. Perfect! (OMG how inevitable was that? – I need to revise it!)

    Posted by Bruce Goodman | July 15, 2014, 5:06 pm
  8. Well said. And oh, I love fossicking about. Haven’t heard anyone use that expression for yonks, apart from me!

    Posted by First Night Design | July 15, 2014, 4:28 pm
  9. Something I always found odd about perfectionism is that ‘perfect’ is in the eye of the beholder. You might say a story is perfect while someone else says it’s horribly flawed. This is probably why I butt heads with every perfectionist that I run into because I don’t agree with their standards.

    Posted by Charles Yallowitz | July 15, 2014, 4:08 pm
    • Yes. I quite like it when stories aren’t perfect. I mean, when there are loose ends, and unexplained bits. I think that’s what I like most about Shakespeare, actually. And if he can do it, why not the rest of us?

      Posted by elainecanham | July 15, 2014, 6:26 pm
    • So true. Fun to have some mystery and wonderment at the end anyway.

      Posted by Charles Yallowitz | July 15, 2014, 7:31 pm
    • Yes, and it’s really hard to do, so that it seems quite natural. Oh God, now I’m thinking about perfect imperfection!

      Posted by elainecanham | July 15, 2014, 10:40 pm
  10. Perfectionism can be a little bit OCD, but there are times when you need to strive for it. The trick is to know when those times occur, and when ‘not perfect but generally ok’ is good enough. The perfectionist will always be tweaking, never happy – and that’s the road to ruin and the bottle. Glug.

    Posted by Jools | July 15, 2014, 3:46 pm
    • Yes. It’s the never being happy with what you’ve achieved that’s the killer; and never being able to see that creativity comes first, editing after.

      Posted by elainecanham | July 15, 2014, 3:50 pm
  11. Thanks for the reminder, Elaine. I’m guilty of that way of thinking. Just yesterday I scratched the story I’ve been working on for the past few months because, as you put it, ‘it doesn’t read quite right’. I’ve lost count how many times I’ve done so, but this time around I’ve woken up to the fact that all this time I’ve been trying too hard, and what I thought was a perfectly epic tale was turning into a patched mess of coolness I was trying to force into the story.

    You’re right, the little unexpected details that we tend to easily dismiss as trivial might turn out to be just what we needed exactly, whether in the stories we tell or in life in general. It’d be nice if perfection could be achieved, but it’s more fun to make mistakes, learn and write something close to true based on that experience.

    Posted by Warsin Tamadur | July 15, 2014, 3:44 pm
  12. Love this! I try not to let the perfectionism pain take away from the small and important things in life, but sometimes it sure is tough… great post 🙂


    Posted by LisaListed | July 15, 2014, 3:13 pm

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